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Martin Freeman's Biggest Role: “SNL”

The "Hobbit" star's upcoming hosting stint on "Saturday Night Live" offers him a chance to stand out.

Martin Freeman first came to prominence in 2001, playing lovelorn and seemingly directionless Tim (the UK forerunner of Jim) on Ricky Gervais' original version of "The Office."

Freeman's since built a following as an exasperated modern-day Watson to Benedict Cumberbatch's international breakout performance as an unctuous Holmes in the BBC’s "Sherlock." Now "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" is due out Dec. 17 with Freeman again playing the title character in an epic film trilogy whose first two installments grossed a worldwide total nearing $2 billion.

But what may be Freeman's biggest role – at least on this side of the Atlantic – comes this weekend when he hosts "Saturday Night Live." The gig puts an actor expert at playing supposedly secondary characters at center stage.

Freeman, also known for his turn in the “Fargo” TV show, is our greatest current stealth star. He’s the glue of all of his most high-profile projects, while never sticking out quite as prominently as his co-stars.

Gervais, whose grating David Brent emerged as the smug face of "The Office," has noted the love story between Freeman's Tim and Lucy Davis' Dawn proved the emotional center of the show.

There's no "Sherlock" without Freeman's Watson, the stand-in for us mere slow-witted (compared to Holmes) mortals and the kind of heroic and loyal friend we'd like to be. Sure, Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins was overshadowed by Andy Serkis’ Gollum in the first "Hobbit" film, and by Cumberbatch's fire-and-ire-breathing dragon Smaug in the second. But Bilbo, the reluctant, put-upon hero, holds the ring – and our hearts.

Freeman is deceptively adept at embodying characters worth rooting for, projecting an innate likability – along with self-doubt. There’s little doubt, though, fans will be rooting for him Saturday as he tackles “SNL,” his first major solo outing where essentially he’ll be playing himself.

The gig offers Freeman a chance to bring his brand of charm directly to viewers in real time and follow the footsteps of other British TV figures who made a splash live from New York: Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Monty Python greats Eric idle and Michael Palin, among them.

Check out a promo as Freeman prepares to make a once-unexpected journey from Middle-earth to 30 Rock.

Jere Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multimedia NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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